After writing countless short stories and showcasing his skill in anthologies such as Africa Risen, Wole Talabi treats us to his newest novel and fantasy debut, Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon. The story centers on a heist, but it is so much more than a high-stakes story and goes deeper to explore the power, vulnerability, and sacrifice of faith and love.
The sleeping man struggles and dies as Shigidi the nightmare god sits upon his chest. Even when hungover and full of self-loathing, Shigidi can still incite enough fear for a job well done at the Orisha Spirit Company. Yet the few summons that call him to the human realm bring him no joy under the oppressive company ownership, not when there are freelance spirits that have escaped the company’s restrictive hierarchy and regulations. Nneoma is one such entity, a succubus that belongs to no one but herself and is free to indulge in human spirits as she pleases. When the pair collides, they form a shaky partnership in hopes of creating a prosperous and indulgent future away from strict bosses and the loneliness of freelance work. However, a powerful god finds Shigidi and Nneoma’s unrestricted existence between worlds opportunistic and plans to use the pair to support his plans within the Orisha Spirit Company. Will Shigidi and Nneoma ever find freedom amidst the scheming forces more powerful than them?
Shigidi and Nneoma first appeared in short stories that were written for various websites. I, Shigidi was published on Abyss & Apex in 2016 and features many key moments of the supernatural pairing’s partnership. Talabi includes these events in the book but expands upon them and honors the characters with a fully fleshed-out tale in a dynamic and complicated world of spirits in the modern world. Talabi also cites a 2017 short story titled Nneoma that was published in Space and Time Magazine. However, the link appears broken on Talabi’s website, so I have been unable to locate the original story. At the end of the book, Talabi acknowledges the several iterations that Shigidi and Nneoma have gone through, and I must say it is a beautiful thing to see them star in this fantasy debut.
Sometimes I struggle to get into stories that alternate between the past and present. This typically happens at the beginning of a book because I’m eager to get immersed in the current situation. With its heist-like narrative, this story structure was necessary for Talabi to slowly reveal his hand and build up to the main event. The book even opens at the climax of the heist and abandons our protagonists’ current demise to go back in time before everything went to shit. This all sounds like it would slow my initial descent into Talabi’s world, but it did no such thing. Talabi crafts compelling accounts from a variety of characters and does it expertly so that I was devouring each chapter to collect a new piece to the puzzle. Each vignette of the past sends ripples into the future which we then get to see unfold for either good or bad. The story weaves together so nicely and has the action, stakes, and interesting characters to engage you thoroughly as it hops around to different people and places in the timeline.
Faith serves as both the central theme of this book and a currency among the gods. It is crucial to the gods’ existence, and we see an ongoing struggle throughout the book as the gods contend with the dwindling beliefs among humans. The Orisha Spirit Company has monetized faith and controls the amount that deities receive. However, there is a poor distribution of faith and we see Shigidi, a minor nightmare god, live a pitiful and sad existence on the meager sustenance he receives. It’s also interesting to see how the characters personally contend with faith. Shigidi has no faith in himself or his abilities. He hates his appearance and his existence, yet he does hold some reverence for Olorun, the god that made him. Meanwhile, Nneoma only believes in herself and what she is capable of. She is selfish and puts herself first in all things. The pair clash over their opposing ideals and we see how their faith is tested as they navigate a world free of the spirit company’s restrictions.
Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon by Wole Talabi has the rambunctious energy of taking down The Man and the soft undertones of finding a love worth fighting for. It is great fun and I know you will join me in hoping Talabi continues Shigidi and Nneoma’s story in the future.
Rating: Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon – 8.0/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.